Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Scale (Or "I am important too")

When multiplayer digital gaming was new, there were huge technical hurdles with everything developers tried to do. As a result, games blindly sought greater technological achievements such as number of simultaneous players. While these issues still exist, they are quickly becoming less significant with wide spread broadband and fibre optic cables quickly becoming main stream.

(For this post, I will assume we are talking about a shooter, obviously MMO games have many more simultaneous connexions, but that is something different).

Everyone likes the idea of hundreds of people all playing in the same game at the same time. You can truly create that war time feeling with bullets whizzing past you and players shouting. Suddenly it isn't you charging some enemies, it is you and loads of other people. It sounds really awesome.

However, I don't believe we should simply be going for as many people as technically possible. Halo 3 supports 16 players in a 8 versus 8 battle. I think this is pushing the limit for standard first person shooter mechanics. Already, you start to feel insignificant. In a balanced 4 versus 4 game in Halo, each death matters and each kill feels like cause for celebration. In Big Team Battle, this simply isn't the case. You charge in because one death is trivial; there is no tension.

I believe the more people you add, the worse the problem will get. Does this mean that I think that large count first person shooters are doomed to failure despite sounding awesome? Well, no.

Instead of giving up, a large scale game needs extra work to make the player feel significant. If every player is doing the same thing, then each players actions become virtually irrelevant: if they fail, either someone on their team will do it, or it won't be their fault because everyone failed.

Instead I think large numbers should be used as a backdrop for smaller games. You and a small group of people would be tasked to doing something. There would be an equal group on the opposite team tasked with doing the opposite. The players could still kill people who are not directly related to their mission, but it would not count towards the final score.

The problem with this is then you are not really a team, just lots of games going on on one map. Sure, you still create a sense of scale, but without a sense of being a team, you would feel no compulsion to attack the other team. I think this would almost completely counter balance the benefits. How many wars have enemies walking past one and another not shooting because they are not related to what they have been tasked to do. The player would be frequently and strongly reminded that they are not in a war, defeating the entire point.

The obvious solution is to have each teams success count as a point towards its team. The problem with this is then you get back to the original problem: getting that point doesn't matter, you won't win because of that point or loose by your failure. While it may not be a complete solution, I think it does reset the counting. If you have 8 players per team, then your kills don't matter. But if there are only 4 teams of 4 per side, then you have 16 players per side (so double) but you would hopefully have the tension of a 4 on 4.